Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg. Knopf. 24o pages. 2013. Audio book read by Elisa Donovan.
I started seeing this book show up on the best-sellers list a few months ago. Then, I heard several people talking about it as work as the “hot” book for women in leadership to read.
Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook, and a self-avowed feminist who wants to transform the role of women in the workplace. She refers to the book as a “feminist manifesto”. She talks about being raised in a Jewish family, but doesn’t say anything about her own faith. She references a number of sources to back up the points that she makes, many of them she first made in her famous 2010 TED Talk titled “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders”.
Sandberg’s career as a women’s champion began with that TED talk, in which she first laid out her lean-in message. She followed that up with a commencement address to the Barnard class of 2011. Both talks went viral online. “Lean In” builds on the themes of these earlier talks, bolstered by extensive references to scholarly works, popular literature and polls.
Sandberg has been the chief operating officer of Facebook since 2008. At 43, she has already had a strong career – research assistant to Lawrence Summers at the World Bank; management consultant at McKinsey; chief of staff to Summers at the Treasury Department; and six and a half years at Google, where she rose to the post of vice president of global online sales and operations. She has two Harvard degrees and a personal worth just under $1 billion. Sandberg was named the fifth most powerful woman in the world by Forbes magazine — all this, in addition to raising two young children with her husband.
Sandberg speaks about many gender biases in the workplace. For example, it wasn’t until she was pregnant that she asked for close-in parking for pregnant women at Google. She believes that women have to believe in themselves, give it their all, and “lean in”. She writes that women make incremental decisions based on future plans for a family, which chips away at their career options.
Sandberg writes that women can successfully juggle work and family. Sandberg is opinionated but also compassionate, funny, honest and likable.
One question that she asks, which is helpful to both women and men is: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” She describes many times in her career when she was unsure of herself, and that has never completely gone away.
She advises women to “make your partner a real partner,” recalling how she and her husband agreed early in their relationship that made them genuine equals when it came to child care. Her phrase “It’s a jungle gym, not a ladder” describes the many different paths careers can take, sideways and even downward on their way up
Below are a few quotes from the book to give you a flavor of its message:
• “Done is better than perfect.”
• “We cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change.” like
• “Fortune does favor the bold and you’ll never know what you’re capable of if you don’t try.”
• “In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.”
• “Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder.”
• “There is no perfect fit when you’re looking for the next big thing to do. You have to take opportunities and make an opportunity fit for you, rather than the other way around. The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.”
• “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.” (Harvard Business School definition of leadership)”
• “Real change will come when powerful women are less of an exception. It is easy to dislike senior women because there are so few.”
• “The promise of equality is not the same as true equality.”
• “Our culture needs to find a robust image of female success that is first, not male, and second, not a white woman on the phone, holding a crying baby,”
• “I have never met a woman, or man, who stated emphatically, “Yes, I have it all.'” Because no matter what any of us has—and how grateful we are for what we have—no one has it all.”
• “Success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively for women. When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less.”
• “Men can comfortably claim credit for what they do as long as they don’t veer into arrogance. For women, taking credit comes at a real social and professional cost.”
• “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
• “Aggressive and hard-charging women violate unwritten rules about acceptable social conduct. Men are continually applauded for being ambitious and powerful and successful, but women who display these same traits often pay a social penalty. Female accomplishments come at a cost.”
“I’m sorry if this sounds harsh or surprises anyone, but this is where we are. If you want the outcome to be different, you will have to do something about it.”
As Sandberg discusses the “gender wars” and equal roles in marriage, Christians will have to compare her views with those of scripture. This book won’t be for everyone. However, it is noteworthy because it is one of the few leadership books written by women for women.